My advice to any journalist, especially aspiring ones and young ones trying to distinguish themselves among the crowd of writers, is take on any freelance job you can get.
There are three key reasons to freelance.
1) It builds your network.
When I left a newspaper job at The Roanoke Times to pursue a teaching career at Cedarville University in 2009, I immediately contacted the Springfield News-Sun about helping with high school sports coverage. They had a need at the time, and I began covering high school football games. As that paper moved away from full-time writers and more toward freelance writers I got more and more work.
Then when the sports departments at Springfield, the Dayton Daily News and the papers in Hamilton and Middletown merged under a single section editor and high school sports editor my opportunities grew. This summer I am covering a lot of Dayton Dragons minor-league baseball games for them. They assign all of the game coverage I do and some feature stories. My relationship has grown to the point that if I suggest a feature story they let me do it.
The relationship with the sports department has spread. I have done two news features, most recently one on a World War II veteran that was tied to this past Veterans Day. And now I am beginning work on my third monthly feature in a row for the Springfield B2B Magazine that the business editor oversees.
This relationship with Cox Media has allowed me to develop a working relationship with them that has helped some of our students work for their newspapers to gain practical experience through a practicum credit and internships.
I also write regular features about local people for a free publication that is distributed in Cedarville. I have gotten to know several people in town that I otherwise might not have ever met.
And someone at SBC Life, a publication for the Southern Baptist Convention, contacted me this spring for freelance work. I’ve now done two stories for them. This could lead to finding work with others and possibly opportunities for my students.
Even if you work full-time in media, take advantage of an opportunity if it comes your way. You never know where it might lead.
2) It expands your skills and knowledge.
Most of my life I have written about sports. But the other types of stories that I mentioned above have been educational. There were learning curves to overcome, especially on the business and SBC stories, but it was worth it.
It’s good to write about what you like, but don’t be afraid to take a story because you’ve never done one like that before. If you know how to write, interview and research, you will do fine. The first sports story I ever wrote as a college student was a soccer game. I didn’t know much about soccer then, and I still don’t. But I still cover soccer when I’m needed. And the first lacrosse game I ever watched was the first lacrosse game I covered.
3) It pays.
A little extra money now and then never hurts. God has provided me with a lot of freelance work. It’s not enough to make a living on (I couldn’t handle that much along with the full-time teaching job I already have), but it helps the family budget and allows us to be a little more generous.
So take on those freelance jobs. There are lots of no-pay to little-pay blogging jobs out there. If you need experience and clips, go for it. But once you gain some experience go for the paying jobs.
And don’t just Google “freelance writing jobs.” That doesn’t get you much in the way of good freelance jobs. I’ve had no success with it. Contact local media and ask them if they need help. Contact websites that publish content in your areas of interest. It only takes one person to say yes to get you going.